Kale, again?

I thought I had settled the whole kale issue in the fall with The Trouble with Kale.

Turns out, I didn’t because last week, on the eleventh of February, I walked down to check out the garden. I discovered both spinach and kale cheerfully surviving the Pennsylvania winter with just a light layer of straw mulch. Today, February 18th, I went down with my scissors and harvested both kale and spinach for a salad. The kale had new growth; there were a few larger frost bitten leaves around the edges, but the inside of the plant was actually growing.

Now admittedly we have had a very mild winter. But the temperatures have dropped to 8-10 degrees several times and one week in particular it was that cold all week.

The best thing about this is Fresh Greens. In. February. So for those of you who live in a year round warm climate, excuse me while I SHOUT IN JOY!

I’ve been trying an experiment this winter in trying to cook as much as I can with what’s on hand. (Note the word trying used twice…) That means potatoes, onions, garlic, beef, eggs, frozen peppers, canned green beans, beets, frozen squash/pumpkin, applesauce, salsa, frozen okra, canned and stewed tomatoes, and pickles/relish/ketchup.

The only vegetables I’ve been buying are mushrooms and carrots and an occasional red pepper. I had beautiful peppers last year, but none of them turned red (even though one variety was specifically a red bell pepper). I hope to remedy that this year — the frozen peppers are very acceptable.

But not in salads. I used the last of our onions two weeks ago. I’ve got ten potatoes left and two of them look like this:

We haven’t been having many salads this winter. So it was particularly exciting to discover the growing kale and spinach. If you remember the one drawback to kale was the cabbage worms. But guess what? There’s NO cabbage worms in winter.

So I’m rethinking the kale issue. If I plant it in September, I could have some greens in the fall and winter with no worries about cabbage worms. And this mild winter has me thinking of a hoop house to extend the season on both sides. Just a small one, maybe?

You Tube Video from BuddyClub Gardening. Click on the photo and it will take you to the DIY cheap hoop house video

Hoop House or not, I planted another row of spinach today and threw in some radishes for good measure. (They were just short rows…) It only took me ten minutes; it was last year’s leftover seeds and it still could snow in April;  but I couldn’t resist planting something on Feb. 18th. Just because I could!

And since I only harvested enough for two kale and spinach salads, I’ll just have to give you one of my favorite salad dressing recipes.

Tomato Vinaigrette (The basic recipe is from the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, but I changed it a bit.)

6 sun-dried tomatoes soaked in 1/3 cup almost boiling water for about a half-hour.
Drain the tomatoes, save the liquid, and coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Mix the tomatoes with 3 T. mixed vinegars–balsamic, red wine, white wine, cider, or lemon juice.
Add a clove of minced or pressed garlic and 1 T. whatever fresh herbs you have. Basil is good, Rosemary is good, Thyme is good, Dill is wonderful in the summer…
Add 1/2 t. salt and some fresh pepper.
Put all the above in a blender or small food processor and pulse five or six times.
While the blender is still running, add the liquid from the tomatoes, and then 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil in a thin slow stream and blend until all the oil is mixed in.

This is a thick, spoonable dressing. Dress it up with capers or chopped olives if you are serving it immediately; or you can add a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt to make it creamier.

(We had our spinach and kale salads with cheeseburgers from the grill. Outside. In February. Really.)

Eminent Domain: 4, Willis and Nelle

This is Chapter Four of the novel, Eminent Domain. 
The introduction and the first three chapters can be found 
under the heading at the top of the page, Fiction Projects.
4, Willis & Nelle

Nelle stood looking out the window behind the cash register, anxiously watching for the school bus. She couldn’t believe the school hadn’t let the kids out early. There had been warnings all day; many businesses had either closed, or let some of their employees leave before the storm hit with full force. And now full force was here and the school buses were still on the road. She could barely see the gas pumps, let alone the road where the bus was toting most precious cargo.

The bells on the door into the garage bays rang, and she heard Willis’ heavy-booted steps on the old wood floor.

“Are your feet clean?” she asked without turning around.

“My feet are clean,” he said, “but my boots are covered with snow.”

“Hunh!” she turned around to glare at him, but he was laughing at her, so she smiled back.

“Stop staring out the window,” he told her. “Those bus drivers know how to drive in this. How many times have we ever had to pull a bus out of a ditch?”

“There’s always a first time,” she faltered, knowing that he was right; worry did nothing but tie her stomach up in knots.

“Look, here it comes,” he said, motioning out the window. “You worried for nothing again.”

The bus made it around the bend, pulled in by the gas pumps and waited for Toby Jobe, age 12, to safely cross in front. When he cleared the front of the bus, he put his head down and ran across the lot as fast as he could run in four inches of heavy snow. He skidded to a stop and burst into the door with bells jangling and the excitement of a kid in a snowstorm. “I bet there won’t be school tomorrow,” he shouted breathlessly. “Can we stay up late tonight and watch a movie on the VCR? And have popcorn? You know, stay up ‘till maybe midnight?”

Nelle laughed the delighted laugh of a mother, charmed by her son’s enthusiasm for the storm, which she had only been seeing as threatening and dangerous. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said agreeably. “Your dad will probably get called out on the tow truck — a night like this is sure to have people in ditches and fields. It might be a good way to pass the time while he is gone.”

“I’m surprised no one has called yet,” Willis said.

“Oh, can I go with you, Dad?” Toby pleaded.

“No,” Nelle said firmly. “I need you here to help man the pumps and keep them clear of snow.”

“You can use the tractor to plow around them,” Willis added to sweeten the deal a bit.

Toby turned to look at his dad in amazement. “I can?”

“You’ve been practicing. I think you’re ready. Come on. I’ll give you another quick lesson before the phone starts ringing for the tow truck.” Willis turned to go back out into the garage bays; Toby grabbed a Three Musketeers and ran out to follow his dad.

“Hey!” Nelle shouted, “that’s not your after-school snack.”

“Energy!” Toby yelled back as he raced out the door after Willis.

Nelle shook her head. Watching his chubby frame run out the door, she wished they didn’t have to have candy bars at the counter. Or alternately, she wished she could lay down the law more forcefully to her only son.


Just a few minutes after Nelle heard the Cub Cadet start up, the dedicated phone line for the towing company rang. They had just installed it in October when they had finally been approved as an official towing company for Triple A. Since they had taken the plunge, business had tripled as well. Willis was gone so often on towing trips, they were considering hiring a mechanic to fill in at the garage for inspections.

“Jobe’s Towing,” Nelle answered. She picked up the pen by the phone and scribbled on the pad. Blue Dodge Caravan in ditch. Tin Can Hollow Rd. 1 mile north of Hattiesville just off Rte. 10.

Before they had been approved for Triple A, there were hundreds of details and requirements — the main one being a Triple A approved two-way radio system. It included a base for the office, and three handsets: one for the truck, one for the base, and one for Willis in the garage. Unfortunately it didn’t include anything for outside, and that’s where he and Toby were right now — out back where Willis was showing Toby the finer points of plowing the sidewalk to the house. Nelle pulled on her jacket and stomped around the side of the garage. She waved her arms like a crazy woman, and Willis finally turned and saw her. He motioned to Toby to keep plowing and started up the nicely plowed sidewalk throwing salt as he walked.

“I expected it,” he said as he came inside. “How far away am I going?”

“Just a mile north of Hattiesville off Rte. 10.” Nelle was ladling some chili from the crockpot into Willis’ thermos. “You’ll just be able to drink this right from the cup,” she said. “And here’s another thermos with coffee. It’s the red plaid one. So you won’t get surprised.”

“Thanks babe. I may be home after this one, I may not. But you’ll know because you’ll probably take the call.” He grinned. “Don’t hold the movie for me.”

She kissed him on the cheek. “Be careful.”

He grunted. “I always am. Quit worryin’.”And he was out the door into the garage, starting up the tow truck. It was still snowing hard and getting dark.


Willis had just dropped the blue Caravan at the dealership in Hattiesville and was in the dealership parking lot filling out paperwork and drinking his chili when the radio crackled.  As he was getting his next instructions from Nelle, a police car went screaming by — as fast as it could  go safely in a blizzard. It was followed by a firetruck and an ambulance with lights flashing.

“Nelle,” he said, “slow down. Am I going where the flashing red lights are headed?”

“Probably,” she said. “It’s a bad accident — a semi-truck and some other cars out beyond Price’s Corners. You know, Digby’s Bend?” Her voice was broken up over the static. Bad weather affected the radio reception too.

“Firetruck, ambulance, and police car just went by. And there goes another police car. Okay, I’m on my way. I’ll toot the horn as I drive by.”

“Willis,” she said, “Police scanner says it’s bad. Emergency vehicles — both towns headed — and — Medivac too.”

“You’re breaking up,” he shouted into the receiver. “Love you.”

He switched off the radio and pulled the wrecker out on to the main road. He could feel the adrenalin starting. Just something about the crackling of those radio waves and the emergency lights and sirens. He didn’t need any coffee now. He’d save it for later.

As he downshifted for the hill up out of Hattiesville, he tried to think of some scenarios. Most likely the semi-truck had jackknifed or slid across the road and other cars had smashed in to it. Who knows how many? He could barely see twenty feet in front of him with the snow swirling around. A driver could be upon an accident and never be able to stop in time on these roads. His tow truck wasn’t big enough to pull out an eighteen wheeler; he must be being called in to help the regular cars. Hell, he thought, there could be ten or more off the road, this being dinner time, and people going home from work…

He was approaching the house, so he laid on the horn. A car was parked at the gas pumps but no one was in sight, so Nelle must be inside with a customer. There was Toby, standing at the door waving. He grinned and laid on the horn in a quick series of short beeps.

This new tow truck business was going to be good, he thought. The only downside was the odd hours. But soon Toby would be old enough to go with him, to keep him company at least, and maybe even help some. He was a good, strong kid and caught on to things fast. As long as they could keep him busy and working so he didn’t get in with the wrong boys. He was thinking of trying out for junior-high football next year in 7th grade and Willis had been thinking of helping out the team as an assistant, but with this towing schedule, he wasn’t sure he could commit to it.

Was it his imagination, or was the snow letting up a bit?

Nope, must have just been less wind down in this valley. He started up the hill toward Prices Corners General Store. He was glad they had gotten rid of their gas pumps when the new regulations went in. Leah and Ben had gone in for the food stuff in a big way, which was good, because now they weren’t really competitors any more. It left Jobe’s Auto & Truck Service as the only place with gas on 592. And now there was Jobe’s Towing, too. Life was good. If only it would stop snowing…

Hah, he thought to himself, I should be glad it’s storming, that means more business. But like anyone who is out in a blizzard, mostly they just want to be home where it’s warm and bright, and Willis was no exception. He had a bad feeling that it would be a long night.

Red lights and flares flashed up ahead, and Willis inched his truck to a crawl. Volunteer firemen were setting up barriers across the road, and some other volunteers waved flash lights to direct traffic down Churchill Road. A state police officer stood by the open door of his car, talking into his radio. Willis pulled as far off to the side of the road as he could, set the brake, and jumped down from the truck to get his orders.

The state police officer hung up his radio and motioned Willis over. Officer Kowalczyk. Willis didn’t know him, but offered his hand. “Willis Jobe from Jobe’s Towing,” he said. “Where do you want me?”

“Here’s what I know. The semi came down the hill going west and around the bend put on his brakes; he either lost control or started to skid off the road, we’re not sure. Seems like his load shifted and jackknifed. Anyway the rig is across the road on its side, and the driver was ejected. Probably dead instantly. A Ford Escort following the truck, couldn’t stop in time and slid into the truck. Man driving, woman with him, she’s still trapped in the car. The EMTs and the fire department guys are trying to get her out right now. On the other side, there are several cars off in ditches from trying to avoid the accident. Doesn’t seem to be any serious injuries there. On this side, there’s just two cars in the ditch. More traffic coming out of Adamsford this time of night. You should go down and pull those cars out. So far you’re the only tow truck on this side of the accident. You might have to come back and get the car that’s being worked on — we’ll have to see. For now, just take care of those cars in the ditch, and see what they need. No one can get through. If they need to get to Adamsford, and their cars are driveable, you’ll have to bring them back up here to go down Churchill Rd. If you need me, call County Control, and they’ll get me the message. Okay?”

“Got it, Officer.”

Willis hopped up in to his truck and pulled out slowly. The volunteer guys had already moved the barrier for him. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Pastor Stewart talking with Matt Price and another state policeman. He waved, but they didn’t see him.

If I were a praying man, I’d pray right now, he thought, hoping that Matt and the Pastor would take up his slack.


Hours later — it was 2:30 according to his watch — Willis pulled the tow truck into the garage. He slumped his head on the steering wheel. Both the soup thermos and the coffee thermos were empty on the floor. The storm had blown itself away to the east and left ten inches of heavy snow in its wake. What a night. He’d done accidents before, and he knew the routine. You just buck up and do your job as quickly and efficiently as you can… But he’d never seen anything this bad. He hoped Nelle was asleep, so he wouldn’t have to tell her about it.

He stood outside the truck for a minute in the silence to just breathe. The fury of a few hours ago was gone, and the sky was filled with winter constellations. Willis knew a few of them — Orion, the W with the Greek name — he concentrated. Cassiopeia, that was it. Proud of himself for remembering, he looked for the North Star. It was hidden behind the hill across the road. No North Star to guide him tonight. He thought of the poor trucker, dead instantly, never to see the North Star or his wife or a beautiful sunny day, ever again. Snatched away in a moment. Nope. We are never guaranteed another day, another minute. He could have a heart attack this instant, out here by the garage. He’d better go in right now and kiss his sweet Nelle and Toby… This is what Nelle means about being ready to meet God. It’s probably why she’s always after him to go to church.

He looked up at the stars. God, if you’re up there, if you’re real, give me a sign. If I could just know for sure… He waited, half expecting a strike of lightning or something. Then he shook his head. I’m being crazy — this night has me hallucinating. As he walked around the side of the garage and down to the house, the living room light came on. Nelle opened the front door. “It must have been bad,” she said quietly.

He nodded. “The worst I’ve ever seen.”

“Willis honey, don’t tell me if you don’t want to. Are you exhausted, or do you need a cup of tea to wind yourself down?”

“I’m exhausted,” he said. “The picture of it is burned into my brain, and I don’t think I’ll ever get it erased.”

She hugged him. “Come to bed, and I’ll give you a back rub.”

The house was hushed and dark; Willis leaned his body into Nelle’s and rested his cheek on the top of her head. “Just in case you don’t know it, I love you,” he whispered.

Outside where he had just been standing, a dozen shooting stars exploded in the dark winter sky.



Troubles behind the Green Door

The trouble with winter … is not snow.

The trouble with winter in the country… is not snowy unplowed roads.

The trouble with winter in the county in an old house… is not frosty, drafty, arctic air.

The trouble with winter in the country in an old house that’s not quite finished…

is mice.

The other trouble is that we were lulled into thinking we had successfully insulated, caulked, and boarded up all holes when we redid the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom, and the mudroom.

The other trouble is, we aren’t finished; so there are other parts of the cottage that are not successfully insulated, caulked and boarded up so the worthless little critters can still get in. (Mice can get in a hole that is the size of a pencil eraser!)

Trouble lurks behind this green door.

green door to the basement

(This green door illustrates the most famous post on Apple Hill Cottage’s blog. About 50 (!) people per day read this post about making a shiny brass door handle look like oil rubbed bronze. It amazes me that there is so much interest in getting rid of shiny brass.)  But back to the troubles at hand: behind this green door with the lovely oil-rubbed bronze handle is the basement of the cottage.

We have a split level basement. Behind the green door go down five steps and turn to the left and there’s a door to the outside. There’s also a closet where King Henry the Cat has his litter box. The laundry is down there too as well as built-in shelves, which are filled to the max with the sundries of living in an unfinished house: screws, nails, paints, paintbrushes, stains, tarps, caulking tubes, electric supplies…. Turn to the right and go down six more steps and there’s the rest of the basement — the furnace, the hot water heater, the toilet, sink, and shower (!)  and beyond that Mr. H.C.’s workshop.  In addition to all that stuff, Mr. H.C. keeps a lot of his business inventory down there. It’s a basement’s basement, and there are quite a lot of holes to the outside that have not been insulated, caulked, or boarded up. And frankly, it is WAY down on the list of things to redo around here.

We tried to close the green door last night before we went to bed. About three o’clock King Henry woke us Mr. H.C.  because he needed to get down there to his litter box fast. So there really isn’t the option of closing the green door. There is, however, the option of locking the cat down there with the mice…

(Spoiler alert: If you are a mouse lover, read no further…)

As far as we know, our lovable but worthless cat has caught one mouse. It was dead in his mouth when he brought it to us, but lately I’ve been living in fear that he will jump on the bed at night with a live mouse in his mouth. Mr. H.C. also found a trap with nothing but one mouse leg in it, so the cat could have eaten the mouse out of the trap too. We aren’t sure about that; we haven’t seen any 3-legged mice around lately, but if it gives the cat a taste for mice, I’m all for it.

Mr. H.C. reminds me that Henry caught a mouse this summer too. Yes, he did; but that doesn’t count because he caught it outside. I’m fine with well-behaved mice who stay outside where they belong.

It’s terrible to have mice in one’s kitchen. Suddenly nothing is certain and I can’t be sure if  a mouse did or didn’t scurry over a pan. In the warming drawer of my OVEN I found mouse droppings! Ugh. Now I have to wash every pan before I use it. I’ve lived with mice before. It’s not a surprise. I just thought I was done with them when we finished our beautiful kitchen.

The last straw was a few days ago when I opened the oven door and found a stash of cat food in the corner of the oven. CAN I SHOUT HERE?

Yes, we are feeding the cat expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and the mice are stealing the expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and hoarding it in the corner of the oven. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

And just so you know, last week when we were in Home Depot the mouse traps were SOLD OUT! So we must not be the only ones with this problem…

And just so you know, I am blessed that Mr. H.C. takes care of all the mouse trap issues…

And just so you know, the oven is now sparkling clean, the green door is now closed at night, and the mouse troubles are staying downstairs. For Now….

cat napping on blanket img_7762

So the cat can continue with his daily routines.